Multicultural Counseling and Social Justice Competencies
Multicultural Counseling and Soicial Justice Competencies Malcom X MuralPicture of Tibetan Woman
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Rebecca L. Toporek Ph.D.

Biographical Statement

I am currently an Assistant Professor at San Francisco State University in the Department of Counseling, Career and College Specializations. My research interests include multicultural issues in counselor training, career counseling, advocacy and social justice in counseling and counseling psychology, race and poverty attitudes in counseling training, clients’ experiences in multicultural counseling, counseling service systems, the role of systemic interventions in addressing discrimination, and multicultural counseling supervision.

In the recent past, I have worked as a counselor and researcher at the University of California, Berkeley and as a counselor and administrator at De Anza Community College and Mission College in Silicon Valley in California. I have also been a career counselor and training coordinator at The University of Maryland and the YWCA Career Center in San Jose, California. I graduated with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland and have a master’s degree in Counseling from the University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon.

Striving toward cultural competence

I became motivated to intentionally focus on developing my multicultural counseling competence in the early 1990’s. My background, childhood and ancestral experiences helped pave this path (too complicated to really go into here). Nonetheless, I was somewhat daunted by the task and, given my personality style, felt like I needed a systematic way of addressing such a complex area. Despite the lack of structure, I forged ahead.

I began by reading whatever I could about individuals and groups who were culturally different from myself. I was fortunate to find mentors such as Jackie Reza, Shirley Kawazoe, Derald Sue, Patricia Arredondo, Michael D’Andrea, Thomas Parham, and Don C. Locke. Through these relationships I was exposed to tremendous knowledge, insight and commitment.

Through my experience of addressing racism as a White, Canadian-American-Polish-French Canadian, heterosexual woman, and trying to “walk the talk”, I was challenged to deal with myself, my worldview, my privilege, and my assumptions in very personal and difficult ways. Some of my relationships survived these challenges, some did not. However, these were the most potent learning experiences. I began to delve into self-awareness reading, workshops, and activities.

I finally resolved to return to school to focus on multicultural counseling in research and practice and entered a Ph.D. program. This experience brought numerous other mentors, Don Pope-Davis and Janet Helms to name a few. Here I gained some of the structure I had been seeking for cultural competence development. However, I was acutely aware that if I became complacent, then I would easily slip back in to the comfortable place of stagnation; especially because, as a White woman, I am allowed and even encouraged to be in that place. Hence, when I completed my program, I became determined to create a tool that could be a accessible for anyone who was motivated to develop their cultural competence.

My professional interest in social justice became explicit when I found that most counseling theory and education did not address the systemic issues faced in my practice as a counselor with people who had very little financial and educational resources. It seemed that there was little guidance about the appropriate ways to advocate and work at a systems level to address issues of oppression. It became clear to me that advocacy and social justice needed to be more explicitly articulated in counseling theory and practice.


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©Rebecca L. Toporek (2008)